I am not a Luddite, not at all, but when I look at Windows 8 I feel a sense of dread. And I feel that way because I think the company is about to make the biggest mistake of its history. I think Windows 8 could be a bigger problem for Microsoft than Windows Vista and Windows Millennium Edition combined.
Why do I say that? Well, because I've been using Windows for nearly as long as it's been available. I've used Windows 3.11, Windows NT 4, Windows 2000 and now I'm happily using Windows 7. As it stands, I can't see me progressing to Windows 8 when it launches later this year.
If you've read our Windows 8 preview, you'll notice that it's quite positive. And that's incredibly interesting, because it was written by a man who has been a Mac user for a very long time indeed. Certainly Stuart was frustrated by some of the same things as I was, but overall, he's used to Metro, because he uses the Launchpad on his Mac. He doesn't mind the Windows 8 "charms" because using the corners of his screen to activate things comes as second nature to an Apple user.
So is that the problem? Is Microsoft trying to lure Mac users back? Does the company think that, by making its user interface more simple, it can perhaps win over the users who hate the complexities of Windows?
I don't have a touchscreen computer and despite protestations from the firm that "a mouse works just fine too", I have found that's not the case. On all my laptops I've really struggled to love the way the new Metro interface expects to be navigated. On a touchscreen, with, say, a tablet, I can really see it working.
Windows 8 and I got off to a bad start when I couldn't even log in without dragging something up. As a mouse user, I don't want to drag things as if I'm using a touchscreen. Happily, thumping the space bar does the same thing. But it still proves that desktop and laptop users are no longer the primary focus for Microsoft.
Most distressing though, has to be the death of the Start menu. For me, Windows came of age when it tidied up its act. Windows 3.11 was a mess because, by and large, you had icons everywhere. People who used it will remember how it was normally arranged, and was all just shortcuts to apps in program groups, which were open on your desktop. It was this, and a simple file explorer, there wasn't all that much else going on. The Start menu brought organisational structure to Windows, and I very much liked it. You could let Windows organise it, or you could move stuff around yourself. It let you decide, and that was what Windows was good at, letting you decide.
To be fair, Metro does let you decide, you can certainly move tiles around and such, but what you can't do is tell it to go away, and give you back a Start bar.
Two user interfaces mean double confusion
But perhaps worst of all, Windows now has two user interfaces. There are the Metro tiles when you boot up. This in itself is a reasonable enough UI, but of course, apps need to be written specifically for it. So what you end up with, is half a dozen apps that run in Metro, and the rest which run via the traditional Windows interface. Any UI designer knows this is a kludge and a mess.
Of course, MS has no way of forcing every app to be Metro compliant by the time Windows 8 launches. And indeed, many companies may not want to use Metro at all. We can't see, say, Oracle being in a huge rush to make its business tools use this style. So we'll never have a system that runs on one interface or the other. The exception is, happily, for ARM-based tablets, where Metro will basically be the only Interface and apps won't be allowed to run in the desktop mode.
Shutting down is also a chore. There's no Start button, so no way to find the shutdown quickly. We're told that users will just press their power button. But you can get to the software version by dragging your mouse to the bottom right of the screen, waiting for the charm menu to appear, then going to settings. You can press win+c to bring up the charm menu here too, but you're still then three clicks away from shutting down. That's a total of four things you need to do, to shut down via the software.
Another real failure is Internet Explorer. In Metro, this is a locked-down experience. That means no Flash, plugins or Silverlight. Yes, really! So you'll have to look at pages that need plugins via the desktop version of the browser. There's also a option to change this so it links to always open in the desktop version. Is there anyone in the world who doesn't think that's a mess?
Gone is the simplicity of task management
If you use your PC for a lot of things, then the one thing you'll appreciate is the task bar, and the way Windows allows you to switch applications. It's arguably clearer and easier to use than OS X in this regard. When an app is running, it's on the task bar, you can see it, and click on it to get back there.
You can still use a task bar in Windows 8, as long as you're in the desktop view mode. In Metro, you don't get this and getting around is much harder.
Also gone is the graphically useful, if a little flashy, Aero task switching (win+tab in Vista and 7). You do still get access to alt+tab, which brings up a static list of all open apps. It's not quite as useful though, and the previews are just too small.
Oh, and perhaps most annoyingly of all, there is no longer an easy way to close an app. If you're using a laptop or desktop, you can kill an application with alt+F4, but there's no close button. There is a way to shut them, which involves grabbing the top of an app until it shrinks to a moveable window, then pulling it down to the bottom of the screen. It's significantly more tedious than pressing a red cross.
Indeed, Microsoft doesn't really think you need to shut apps any more. That's because Windows knows better than you, and is perfectly able to manage both power use and system resources like RAM and processor time. I personally find this annoying, because I like to close things when I'm finished with them. I don't care if there's no need, I'm doing it anyway.
Who will buy Windows 8?
My theory here, is nobody. But I should clarify. Windows 8 will, no doubt, sell well to OEMs who make tablets, laptops and desktops. But that's mainly because they won't have much choice, as Microsoft pushes everyone towards Windows 8.
Consumers won't pay to upgrade. There's pretty much no one who bothers to do this when a good OS like Windows 7 comes along, so there's really no chance of people coughing up to use an operating system that they just don't understand.
Business too, will have no reason to upgrade. Most are still in the middle of moving from XP to Windows 7. Some won't even move off XP, so the chances of companies wanting to put an OS that changes they way people interact with their computers is zero. Add to that the extra investment in hardware they'd need, to make it worth moving to Windows 8 anyway, and it becomes even more unlikely.
So that's it. Basically, Windows 8 will probably sell well to ARM tablet manufacturers, and new system builders who are forced in to it by Microsoft. But it simply won't appeal to anyone else. Oh, and perhaps people looking to switch away from Apple. If such a thing happens.
Is Microsoft listening?
I let the Developer Preview of Windows 8 pass without much comment. I hated it of course, it was much worse than the Consumer Preview, as it didn't have any drivers and looked even more of a mess than this new version does.
Will Microsoft listen to what people are saying now? I doubt it. When does a big company ever listen to what it's being told by the people who use its product every day? On the other hand, I'm certain that Microsoft is pushing this because it feels it needs to change how desktop operating systems work. It might be right, for all I know.
Windows 8, and Metro are fine for tablets. When it comes to laptops and desktops, it adds an extra layer of confusion, and a significantly worse user experience than Windows 7 does. It is, in my opinion, for want of a more tactical way of putting it, "a dogs dinner".
Could it be fixed?
Yes, easily. Metro is fine for tablets, and here it can be the default style for the OS.
For desktop and laptop users, simply offer a choice during the configuration. Do you want to use a garish tile-based UI, or do you want to enjoy the calm practicality of the traditional desktop?
Metro can always be available to those who want to load it up for some uses. It just shouldn't be the thing responsible for killing off the traditional desktop for those of us who like it, and want to carry on using it.
And real people are proving our point too
This video shows Joe Pirillo, the father of blogger and internet entrepreneur Chris Pirillo, trying to get to grips with Windows 8. I think it highlights the problem perfectly. All is well and good when you're in Metro, but once you're out, you're stuck. Unless, that is, you know to press the Windows key on your keyboard. You might love Metro, but you can't argue that for normal people, it's a UI nightmare.
Am I wrong? Are you worried about the user interface of Windows 8 too? Let us know below: